Hiking Trails in Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park - Ecology

Encompassing over 1.5 million acres, Everglades National Park accounts for only 1/5 of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem. Most people think of the Everglades as a swamp, when in fact, it is technically a river which runs southwest about a rate of a quarter mile each day. The ‘Glades’ as called by the locals, is the only sub-tropical wilderness in America designated as a national park.

With 9 distinct habitats identified, the area itself is a mosaic of interlinking ecosystems in a state of constant ecological flux.

The 9 identifiable habitats include: Hardwood Hammocks, Pineland, Mangroves, Coastal Lowlands, Freshwater Slough, Freshwater Marl Prairies, Cypress and Marine / Estuarine. Each Habitat is home its own cache of biological diversity, some containing endangered species found nowhere else in the world.

One of the main nine habitats, the Freshwater Marl Prairie, covers about 575,000 acres of the Everglades. This ecosystem is a mix of prairie ecology and freshwater marsh. The two combine to create the dominant ground cover from which other Everglades ecosystems are born.

Grasses of varying size and composition are the primary floral inhabitant of the Freshwater Marl Prairie and this vast area serves as the main grazing ground for birds of the Everglades.

The main plant species of the Freshwater Marl Prairie is saw grass. Named for the saw-like teeth on its edges, saw grass is technically not a ‘grass’, rather a member of the sedge family. Other marl prairie species include: white top sedge, muhly grass, beak rush and spike rush. Over 100 more plant species are also found within this habitat.

Among the sedge / grass species and of equal ecological importance is a layer of algae called Periphyton. This combination of various algae species provides a source of food for organisms within the marsh. It is a crucial element in the food chain of the Everglades. Layers of Periphyton, which float on the water during the wet season, gives nutrients to tiny marine creatures, which then act as food for crayfish and amphibians, which in turn provide food for birds and other marl prairie fauna. Periphyton provides the balance to an otherwise fragile ecosystem.

Also important to the Freshwater Marl Prairie ecosystem is ‘detritus’, a layer of decaying aquatic plants, stems and leaves. Detritus, like periphyton, plays a key role in the food chain, providing additional sustenance for all marl prairie fauna.

Another well-known habitat is the Mangrove Forest which covers most of the southern tip of the Everglades and extends up the western coastline of Florida. The mangrove habitat is an ecological transition zone where the freshwater of Florida’s interior meets the saltwater of Florida’s oceanic coastline. The resulting maze of brackish estuaries and canals provide a breeding ground for shrimp, fish, alligators, sea turtles, manatees and other marine life, as well as a nesting ground for wintering birds. The mangrove habitats also play home to the American Crocodile, making this one of the few places where crocodiles and alligators intermingle.

Not surprisingly, the mangrove forest gets its name from its three main inhabitants: the Black, Red and White Mangrove trees. The strong Red Mangrove trees (Rhizophora mangle) dominate the coastline and are easily identified by their rust colored roots which arch from their base, drop into the water and drill down into the mucky soil to find nutrients. Alternatively, the Black Mangrove (Avicennia germinans) prefers to grow slightly inland and can be identified by its dark aerial root projections, called pneumatophores. These pneumatophores, which act as respiratory organs for the Black Mangrove, must be exposed to air to live, which is why the Black Mangrove resides farther inland inhabiting the tidal areas just beyond the coastline. The rarer White Mangrove ((Laguncularia racemosa), which needs higher ground to survive, can be found along the interior of the mangrove forest.

Everglades National Park - Anthropology

Aside from its vast diversity of flora and fauna, the Everglades have a rich anthropologic history which spans many centuries. People came seeking wealth, adventure and often times, sanctuary from the law. With its seemingly endless maze of canals and mangrove swamps, the Everglades provided an easy way to get lost, both deliberately and by accident.

The human history of the Everglades has been chronicled and categorized from about 10,000 B.C. through the 1930's. There are 5 main time periods associated with settlement of the area:

Paleo-Indian Period (10,000 b.c. - 8,000 b.c) The peoples of the Paleo-Indian period lived among giants. Present among the humans during this time were animals referred to as 'Megafauna' and include larger-than-life Mammoths, Mastodons, Bison, Giant Round Sloths, Giant Tortoises and more. Spear-points found embedded within Mastodon skeletal remains indicate they were hunted with vigor by their human counterparts. Mass hunting of Mastodons and other megafauna species are thought to have accelerated their extinction in conjunction with climate change. Some scientists believe that hunting had a much greater impact on the extinction of paleo-indian megafauna than did climate change. Upon extinction of these giant animals, the native peoples turned to subsistence on smaller ground animals and vegetation. Enter, the Archaic Period.

Archaic Period (8,000 b.c. - 750 b.c) As the sea levels rose during the Paleo-Indian period, the water of melting glaciers poured into south Florida covering much of its land mass. Cypress swamps and hardwood forests began to develop turning the area into sub-tropical terrain. During this time, the human inhabitants had to adjust their ways of life and began fishing, foraging plants and hunting smaller game. It was within the Archaic period where great advances in tools and pottery came into play. Remnants and shards of these items lead to the belief that inhabitants were creative in adapting to their changing ecosystem.

The Glades I, II and III Period (750 b.c. - 1500 a.d.) The Glades Periods are delineated by identifying 3 distinct types of pottery which are easily separated by design and represent an excellent system of marking time. By identifying cultural items used and created during these times, anthropologists are able to paint a picture of thriving tribal societies who interacted with each other, traded goods and exchanged innovative ideas. During the Glades II and III periods, anthropologists have deduced that trade increased heavily with exotic cultures due to archeological finds of non-native tools, pottery and ornaments.

Historic Contact Period (1500 a.d. - 1700 a.d.) The Historic Contact Period marks the arrival of European explorers and settlers into south Florida, primarily the Spanish. At this time in history, the area was thriving and was dominated by 5 main Indian tribes representing over 20,000 inhabitants. They included the Calusa Tribe in the southwest, the Tequesta in the southeast, the Jeaga and Ais tribes who resided just north of the Tequesta, and finally the Mayaimi who settled near Lake Okeechobee. Of the five tribes, the Calusa maintained a political stronghold on south Florida. Sadly, when the English settlers arrived and laid claim to the area in 1763, the population of indigenous Indians had been reduced to a few hundred. New world disease and genocide are two main factors in the reduction of the Indian population.

Historic Period (1750 a.d. - 1930 a.d.) With white settlers rapidly establishing colonies in northern and central Florida, and the indigenous Indian population on an exponential decline, the Everglades became a haven for displaced tribes such as the Creek people and the Seminole. Pushed from their homes in the north, these tribes sought refuge from white domination and disease deep within the Everglades. During the Seminole Wars throughout the 1800?s, the Seminole made the Everglades their home in hopes the difficult terrain would ensure their survival from bellicose white settlers.

Everglades National Park - Wildlife

Birds: Over 370 species of birds have been recorded in the Everglades. Since the earliest recorded history, great flocks of migrating birds have called the Everglades home. The vast saw grass prairie or 'river of grass' is a lifeline to migratory species who nest here during the dry season, feeding and raising their young.

It is amazing to think that in the early 1900's, the Everglades bird population was nearly wiped out. Due to a boom in the 'plumage' industry, birds were slaughtered by the thousands for their feathers. Close to 95% of all wading birds in south Florida were exterminated. Then in 1947, Everglades National Park was established with a specific mandate to protect the flora and fauna of this sub-tropical wilderness. Due to intense conservation efforts, the bird population has rebounded and the Everglades have become a birders paradise. There are few places on earth where one can find the most diverse concentration of bird species in one area.

Common wading birds include the Great Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, White Ibis, Snowy Egret, Woodstork, Anhinga, Great Egret, Roseate Spoonbill and many more.

Raptors can also be seen in the Everglade including the Bald Eagle, Osprey and Turkey Vulture

Mammals: Over 40 species of mammals have been recorded in the Everglades. Due to the semi-aquatic nature of the park, mammals have had to adapt to their surroundings. White tailed deer wade in the saw grass marl prairie, Black Bears need to be cautious of predatory alligators and the Florida Panther steers clear of the coral snake. The Everglades boasts 9 distinct ecosystems and the park's mammals tend to gravitate to the habitat to which they're best suited. The Florida Panther prefers the dry land of the pinelands ecosystem, the Black Bear is mostly found within the mangroves of the southwest Everglades and the River Otter stays close to the hardwood hammocks and saw grass prairie.

Reptiles: Over 50 distinct reptiles have been recorded in the Everglades. When people think of the Everglades, their first thought is not of a panther or black bear, but of reptiles. The Everglades are synonymous with alligators, snakes, turtles and frogs and the reptile population is what put the Everglades on the map. In addition to the American Alligator, the southern section of the Everlades also plays home to the American Crocodile, making this one of the few places on Earth where the two species intermingle.

The Everglades has 4 species of poisonous snakes; the Coral Snake, Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Dusky Pigmy Rattlesnake and the Cottonmouth. Snake sightings are rare, and snake bites are even rarer. If you are bitten, seek immediate help. If you see a snake, let it be and do not provoke it.

Fish: There are over 30 native species of freshwater fish in the Everglades. Fish provide a crucial link in the Everglades food chain. They are the main source of food for larger fish, alligators, wading birds and even the park's mammals. In addition to providing food for larger predators, freshwater fish also control the insect population. During the wet season, when insects are out in droves, the fish population will swell in kind, providing a natural biological balance.

The most common freshwater fish in the Everglades is the Mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki). True to its name, when water levels begin to rise, the Mosquitofish begins to breed quickly in order to capitalize on all the mosquitoes being hatched.

Other interesting freshwater species include the Florida Gar Fish, a long silvery predator that can exceed 3? in length. With its long jaws and sharp visible teeth, the Florida Gar can resemble an alligator at quick glance.

An unusual feature of the Gar fish concerns its breathing. Unlike regular fish, the Gar fish breathes air in through its 'nose' and mouth. This is in addition to regular gill breathing, of which the Gar is capable. The Gar goes to the surface, takes in air and then processes the oxygen through a specialized air bladder. This air breathing enables Gar to live in murky or polluted waters with less oxygen content.

One other notable fish is the Everglades Bass. We mention the bass for several reasons, not the least of which is its dangerously high Mercury content. The Everglades is a world class fishing destination and bass is the most common catch.

PRECAUTION: The park recommends that bass caught north of the main park road should NOT be eaten. DO NOT eat bass caught south of the main park road more than once a week. Pregnant women and children should not eat any bass caught anywhere in the park.

Everglades National Park - Fishing

Freshwater Fishing Rules

Freshwater License Requirements: A Florida freshwater fishing license is required to fish in freshwater or to possess fresh water species.

Bait Rules and Regulations: Live or dead fish (including minnows and shiners) or amphibians, and non-preserved fish eggs or roe, are prohibited. Digging for bait inside the park is not permitted.

Areas Closed to Freshwater Fishing: No fishing is allowed at the Ernest F. Coe (Main) Visitor Center lakes, Royal Palm Visitor Center area and trails, Chekika Lake, along the first 3 miles of the Main Park Road, including Taylor Slough, or along the Shark Valley Tram Road.

Saltwater Fishing RulesSaltwater License: A Florida saltwater fishing license is required to fish in saltwater or to possess saltwater species.

Saltwater Bait:Shrimp, minnows, pilchards, pinfish, mullet, mojarras (shad), or ballyhoo can be uses. Bait may be taken with hook and line, dip net (not wider than 3 feet / 0.9 m), and cast net. Bait, except for mullet and shrimp, is not included in bag limits.

Areas Closed to Saltwater Fishing: No fishing is allowed in Eco, Mrazek or Coot Bay Ponds at any time. No fishing is allowed from the boardwalk at West Lake, or at the Flamingo Marina during daylight hours.

Manatee Etiquette: Areas frequented by manatees have been posted. Keep an eye out for manatees. Slow to an idle if observed, but do not approach or molest.

Lobster and Queen Conch: The taking and possession of lobster and queen conch is prohibited and punishable by law.

Recreational Crabbing: Stone crabs, during open state season, and blue crabs may be taken by recreational fishermen using attended gear (for example: star trap, baited line, landing net, etc.). Crabbers are limited to five (5) traps. Unattended gear, including traps, is prohibited.

Shrimp: Shrimp may be taken by dip net (not wider than 3 feet / 0.9 m) or cast net, for personal use only, not for sale.

Everglades National Park - Camping


Two drive-in campgrounds are located within the park. The Long Pine Key Campground is located six miles from the Ernest Coe Visitor Center. The Flamingo Campground is located near the Flamingo Visitor Center on the shores of Florida Bay.

Both campgrounds can accommodate tents and RVs. A limited number of group sites are also available.

Nightly fees are currently $16.00 per site at either campground. If you have a Golden Age card (U.S. Citizen 62 or over) or a Golden Access Card (permanently disabled), camping is half price. This does not apply to group sites, which are $30.00 per night. Owing to limited usage and difficult conditions, camping is typically free of charge during the wet season.

Site are available in the Long Pine Key Campground on a first-come, first-serve basis only. Reservations are not accepted.

Reservations are accepted at the Flamingo Campground, and are strongly recommended. Reservations can either be made online or by calling 1-877-444-6777 (International: 518-885-3639).


Backcountry camp sites provide an opportunity to experience the lesser known, vast wilderness of the Everglades. Visitors can select between a variety of ground sites, beach sites and elevated camping platforms (sometimes called chickees). Most sites are accessible by canoe, kayak or motorboat, though a few may be reached by hikers.

Visitors should be aware that none of the park's 47 backcountry sites are available by car.

A backcountry permit is required for all wilderness campsites. Permits are only issued the day before or the day of the start of your camping trip. Permits are not issued over the telephone. Wilderness permits are written from the Ernest Coe Visitor Center only for two land sites in the Long Pine Key area: Ernest Coe and Ingraham Highway. For all other campsites, permits may be obtained at the Flamingo and Gulf Coast Visitor Centers. Winter wilderness users whose trips originate from the Florida Keys can obtain permits by phone by calling 239-695-2945 for the following locations only: North Nest Key and Little Rabbit Key. Permit Fees: $10 per permit plus $2 per person per night.

Trips into the backcountry require more preparation than most. Visitors should be careful about the season in which they choose to visit. Campers should be able to navigate properly and should be prepared for inclement weater and biting insects.